CS, CT, and computer skills

For clarity, when I use CS I mean computer science, and when I use CT I mean computational thinking. Perhaps this is not the best term, as I think many educators would interpret CT and critical thinking. However, for the moment it will do.

So far this summer, I have been to ISTE and attended some workshops on CT, as well as examined the idea of computing concepts as they appear in STEM and Maker Space initiatives. I have been reading papers and articles, such as workshop materials from some local offerings like the TCNJ workshop on CT, but most notably the cornerstone work by Jeannette Wing. Even as I went through the AP Summer Institute course to prep for the AP CS A, the roles of coding and problem solving were emphasized. As I processed all this information it became more evident that CS is not just about coding. Yes, it is important to expose everyone to coding, and the Hour of Code and work of Code.org is vital, but that merely opens the door to possibilities. Big idea #1 – We can teach kids to code, but in order to be successful in computer science, or really any aspect of life, they need to be able to problem solve. 

Further, I had some discussions and reflection on the role of CS in education. What is the role of CS in STEM? How does computer science support or relate to other disciplines? Is the term computer science still a relevant term in today’s STEM/Maker world.  An esteemed colleague in our central NJ CSTA group, who is the leading advocate for CS education in NJ commented to me, emphatically, that CS IS still very relevant. One of the biggest struggles we have in promoting CS education is differentiating it from computer skills. The idea of technology integration, computing skills, computer science, all seems to fall under one large umbrella for many educators. And, it is a large umbrella, especially as technology becomes more pervasive in our lives. Big idea #2 – we need to infuse technology and problem solving into all aspects of our student’s education, so they can create solutions and be aware of the potentiality of technology. 

Finally, this thought occurred to me. Perhaps it is a mashup of other ideas and thoughts, but it seemed to sum it up well:

To create with technology is to use computer skills. To actually create technology is computer science. 

It is such an exciting time to be in education and work with technology. What was technology integration 20 years ago (word processing skills, keyboarding, data collection, etc) is now more like global collaboration, multimedia presentations, and problem solving with technology. This is vital in all areas of our students lives, and relevant to how they live.

In the summertime

When the weather is hot, you can stretch right out and….do lots of PD!

So much to do, learn and explore this summer. All my efforts will be focused around CT (Computational Thinking). This became a big interest during grad school work 2 years ago, but apparently it is now becoming a buzz word in education (see article in CSTA ).

My summer adventures start with the ISTE conference, and the first stop is a 3 hour workshop on CT for Every Subject by Martine Paquet. This is of great interest, and I am looking forward to more inspiration and resources to integrate CT into other subject areas. Overall, ISTE will be great – but like a buffet there will be more there than I can possibly consume. I do have my plan of what to see and do and I will follow up by reading materials shared from the conference, and connecting with new people.

I will be giving two workshops this summer on ways to start middle school computer science clubs after school. This will include CS unplugged  and coding activities – Scratch, Finch robots, Makey, Makey, Minecraft. Will also look at other tools and activities to circle in the CT concepts. More about this as it unfolds.

Next school year I will be teaching some new-to-me classes, such as the AP CS  course, so a week in AP Summer Institute to help prep will be my focus the end of July. I will also teach a 3D course next year, and while I have done some 3D activities with my students, a full semester course will take some more in depth work. I am going to a Maker workshop, and will do some online PD to get up to speed with Tinker Cad and 123Design.

Some people say the best part of being a teacher is that you get the summers off. I agree – because you need time to recharge, but also because you get time to be a student, to learn new things, to explore ideas.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)

So much is going on in the world, in technology, and in education.  Society and culture are changing based in large part on the impacts of technology. We are looking to change education – from Michael Gorman and effective PBL to Will Richardson and accepting modern realities in schools,  We are re-evaluating how technology fits into curriculum. Well, I suppose this is an ongoing effort, but for me takes on a new direction. 20 years ago we as technology educators planned for a world where technology would be ubiquitous. That world is here. It is no longer about the tool, about the technology, but rather about the logic and functionality behind it. How can we transfer knowledge of one particular technology to another? Are our skills as ubiquitous as our devices?

From my perspective computational thinking (CT) is the “technology” we should be integrating now. CT encompasses concepts such as problem solving, abstraction, simulation, algorithms and decomposition which are key not only to computer science, but to other disciplines as well. CT is about finding solutions, and having the perseverance to work through a problem (what some people might call “grit”). While integrating CT is not a revolutionary concept (see the work by Jeannette Wing, 2006, which propelled the concept forward), it is one that I have taken a particular interest in and plan on researching further and working to implement in my school. I will be sharing this exploration in this blog. 

Sometimes life changes so fast, that to keep up with it we become engulfed in the flow and let many things pass by. And, that is ok actually, as long as we are moving forward. We can’t expect every thing else in life to keep pace with us, or to keep pace with everything. When the flow slows down a bit, its good to look around and see where you are, and where you’re headed. What changes are happening in other areas of life. Changes in education, changes in the ways technology is integrated in our lives present new opportunities for growth. Change is good.